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The State

A federal lawsuit intended to prevent the United States from firing retaliatory nuclear missiles as soon as computers decide that the nation is under nuclear attack was rejected by a federal appeals court on grounds that there is no evidence that such a “launch-on-warning” policy has been officially adopted. Clifford Johnson, a computer manager at Stanford University, backed by a group called Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, filed the action on grounds that such a policy violates congressional authority to declare war. A U.S. district court judge rejected the suit last year, saying it raised “political issues” that the courts are not competent to decide. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal--but on different grounds, pointing out that federal courts cannot issue “advisory” opinions.


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